Joe and I are public transportation people. We take trains instead of renting cars. We only take cabs if where we’re going to or from is dangerous or only accessible by miles of walking. We never owned a car in San Francisco.
Which is why we are so deeply hurt by Prague. We were leaving the castle, tired, thirsty, and with my knee aching like crazy. We had one more destination and I (incredibly) figured out how to get to the tram stop closest to us from the castle maze. There was no ticket machine at our stop and I remembered reading that when you took a bus you could buy a ticket from the driver, it would just cost you more.
We got on, exact change in hand. The tram driver was behind a door–no way to buy a ticket from him. Then we saw a person with a machine in the back of the tram. We went up to her and said, “Please. We would like two tickets.”
What we got was a big fat fine.
No amount of begging, insisting, promising or showing the money in our hand would convince the transport officer and her non-English-speaking partner to let us out of this fine. We were on a tram. We did not have tickets. End of story. 800 crowns ($40) in cash each immediately please. It turns out that there was (probably) a ticket machine across the road at the other stop.
Joe did manage to convince them to only levy one fine instead of two. I sat on the corner and cried. By the time he got back, it was pouring rain.
Prague is not in my top ten list of favorite cities.
Luckily the stop they made us get off at to get cash was the one we were heading for anyways, so ten minutes later, when the waterworks stopped, we both had a beer in our hands at the Strahov Monastic Brewery.
One of the greatest things that Europe does that America mostly fails at is the small pour. All the beers came in half pints, so we had all four–an IPA, dark lager, amber, and unfiltered wheat. All of them drinkable and delicious, though not terribly remarkable.
Even better, we wound up sharing a table with Chris and Ellen, a honeymooning couple from Macon, Georgia. After sharing a few tales of traveling woes (between Warsaw and Prague, they’d had even more troubles than us), Chris pushed one of their cheese plates towards us. “We accidentally ordered two instead of one, so please, seriously, help yourselves.” After being told a few more times, we did.
There was a nice swiss style, something that appeared to be a medium Provolone or aged mozzarella, and a nice sweetish blue. Then there was something that looked like a chevre round that had been left out in the sun for two days.
It was an off-white, almost yellow, like nicotine-stained teeth. The center was dense and lighter colored, while the outer ring was translucent, almost with the appearance of those candy orange slices, all shiny inside where your teeth scraped away the sugar. That’s the only way I can describe it. Do not let this make you think it was sweet in any way.
When I took a bite, the texture was firm–you could crack the little disc into triangles. It starts out rich and minerally, the way hot springs smell, like limestone with a hint of sulfur, then finishes with such a cow-barn kick that you’ll swallow and wonder if you liked it or not.
I just kept trying and trying, unsure.
Finally I asked the waitress what it was. It was the first time she smiled at us. Either she was happy we were taking interest in a very Czech cheese, or the faces American make when they taste this cheese is one of the great joys in her day. ” Olomoucké tvarůžky,” she said. Ok, I admit that I didn’t know that that’s what she said at the time, but I have since figured it out. “Czech people,” she continued, “we like to eat it with some butter, and also with nakládaná zelenina…pickles.”
So we all spread some butter on a piece of bread (we didn’t have pickles) and tried it again. The butter tones down the hay-and-manure notes into a more pleasant grassy funk and leveled out the shattered texture. If you can get your hands on it, try it, in a slow and pondering kind of way.
We also had onion soup with cheese toasts–Pragians are sort of obsessed with their toasts. I think it was blue cheese mixed with some garlic. Super tasty, and another comfort-food tear-stopper.
I would love to visit the Czech countryside one day to hunt down more of these cheeses, but I have to say I might be done with Prague itself. I suspect that everyone who claims it is the most beautiful city in Europe has never been to Bruges.